Group dynamics can be defined as the interactions that influence the behavior and attitudes of individuals when they are in groups. Multiple scientists have carried out studies that have focused on how people behave in groups. The findings have revealed that groups affect peoples’ attitudes, behavior and perceptions. Groups are essential for social life, but they may also negatively influence their members. This essay will focus on the dangerous influences groups can have on members.
Groupthink and Conformity
Groupthink is a term that was coined by Irving Janis. It refers to a process in which a group can make irrational or poor decisions. This situation is experienced when group members conform their opinions to the consensus of the group. The end result is that the group may decide on a decision or action that some individual members know is wrong.
Peer pressure is one of the reasons people conform to groups. In some cases, people go along with group decisions in order to be liked even though they are not in agreement with the final decision. The Asch experiment that was carried out in 1955 is a classic example of conformity. The results of the experiment revealed that a small group of between three or four people can influence and distort the judgments of others.
Groupthink occurs in numerous circumstances. In some cases, it has even led to catastrophic outcomes. An example of such a situation is the 1986 Challenger Space Shuttle disaster. In this particular scenario, the management of NASA was not sure whether it should launch the spaceship after it discovered that the temperatures were low. However, management still decided to proceed with the launch despite some members being concerned about the dangers.
The spacecraft blew apart just a few seconds into flight. All the seven astronauts onboard died. This disastrous outcome would have been avoided if the people who had been concerned about the possible consequences of the move had spoken up against the consensus. Groupthink in some cases also affects the decisions of the jury. Some jurors give in to the pressure of reaching a verdict quickly, and as a result they go along with a decision that they believe is wrong.
Individuals can be influenced to do destructive or harmful things when they go along with the actions or beliefs of a group. There are numerous occasions where group dynamics has led to poor decision making. One thing that cannot be disputed is that groups can influence members negatively.
Group dynamics looks at how people form groups and how these groups develop and interact. Groups can be informal or formal but typically have a set pattern of how they function. When managing groups, it is important to understand the implications of group communication, alliances within groups and group motivation in order to direct the group to a positive result. Groups form an identity after working together for awhile and the group identity forms the approach the group will take to solving problems and what processes will be used to solve problems.
Keywords Adjourning; Consensus; Forming; Group; Group Dynamics; Groupthink; Interpersonal Communication; Norming; Performing; Storming; Teams
Management: Group Dynamics
Group dynamics considers how groups form and develop as well as how people act and react in groups. Group dynamics is an important area of study because it can have value when looking at the way people work together, live together and play together. This knowledge can then be used in the makeup of project teams, in the design of workspaces, living and recreational spaces as well as in predicting group outcomes. Companies are interested in group dynamics because the work of companies is seldom done by one person alone. People usually have to be organized in groups to complete the tasks needed to achieve company objectives. According to Buijs (2007, p. 206) "Innovations are seldom the result of one individual creative genius."
Understanding how groups form, develop and interact can help companies understand how to best organize and communicate with groups of people. Managers are interested in group dynamics since they may have responsibility over a group of people. These managers may benefit from training that alerts them to warning signs that a group is in trouble or headed in a direction that is counterproductive. Training can also help managers be better facilitators of group meetings and group activities to bring the best out of all team members. Communication is essential for groups to function.
Group dynamics concerns how people communicate as well as what position they play in group activities and decision making. Managers and leaders have to pay attention to the way they communicate information to a group. There is a natural tendency to communicate to others in the way an individual likes to communicate or the way that feels most comfortable. Managers and leaders will need a variety of communication skills and styles in order to reach people with different styles in a group. In groups, it is likely that there will be several communication styles present to manage. There will also be a requirement for mediating those styles in order to avoid conflict.
Researchers are interested in group dynamics because they can find out how people interact, what roles people select in groups and why they feel most comfortable in those roles. Members of groups may want to know how groups form and develop in order to improve the capabilities of the group and get results from working within the group. Buijs (2007) studied how companies are creative and innovative and determined that the innovation process is impacted by four influences:
- Innovation content.
- Group dynamics of the team responsible for innovation.
- Accepting innovation as a creative process.
Buijs (2007, p.3) discussed the need for balance between these influences and how they at times may conflict with each other making those in charge of innovation "schizophrenic" because of responding to these conflicts. Similarly, balance is needed when trying to meet the needs of the group against other organizational and external needs. Involvement helps the group feel as if they are empowered to make decisions but if the needs of the leader conflict with allowing the group to make decisions, conflict between the group and the leader may occur.
Groups are people who are together because they have something in common. When groups of people are brought together to work as a team they experience several stages of development. The first stage is forming followed by storming, norming, performing and adjourning.
- Forming is when the group first gets together and the mission of the group is defined.
- Storming is when conflict begins as people begin to struggle for control of the identity of the group.
- Norming is the stage where people begin to focus on the purpose of the group and start to work together as a team.
- Performing is where the group is most productive and begins to experience results.
- Adjourning is where the group breaks apart to return to normal activities and this phase gives the group a chance to review the successes and failures of the group.
Buijs (2007) noted that in addition to these stages of group development, team members will likely go through a "search for a shared understanding": A struggle with ambiguity and changes in the degree to which team members trust each other. Without trust, a group will not function in a manner that is favorable to its purpose.
Why Group Dynamics Matter
Group dynamics are important because people interact with others on a regular basis. People are sometimes thrown together in groups and at other times there is deliberate care taken in how people are grouped together. Law enforcement may care about groups because there is a difference between a group of people peacefully protesting and a mob. Law enforcement personnel must be trained to know the difference or innocent people may be harassed or warning signals of trouble could be overlooked.
Company managers care about groups because groups influence how well and how much work gets done during the average work day. If there is constant conflict among groups then productivity will suffer. If groups and subgroups form close alliances, they may not want to work with others outside their group which may impact management's ability to utilize all resources. The way groups think, communicate and handle change may also impact the success of new projects. Successful managers are adept at building groups into high performance teams and helping these teams develop strategies for solving problems and resolving conflict.
At times, groups are formed for convenience or out of necessity. Groups will only be successful if they see the mutual benefit they can provide each other. Argent (2007, p.14) called these "mutually effective partnerships." These partnerships don't simply mean that there is a win-win for the parties involved. Instead, it means that the group processes used to achieve the win-win results are effective and can work over the long haul withstanding change and other factors. Working together in a mutual partnership requires that the members of the group possess basic skills which Argent (2004) refers to as:
- Communication skills.
- Preparation skills.
- Meeting management and facilitation skills.
- Group dynamics.
- Post meeting follow-up skills.
Without these skills as a starting point, conflict may quickly develop and remain out of control. While group facilitators and managers may need training and skills to be successful, members of a group may also benefit from team building skills so that each can be productive.
The Importance of Communication
Group dynamics often concerns communication because communication is a central feature through which information is distributed, data is analyzed and decisions are made. The effectiveness of a group’s communication is the primary factor in predicting a group’s success (Pentland, 2012). Group communication can be delivered verbally and in writing and often through the facility of a meeting where information is shared and discussed. Groups can be effective if members are prepared for meetings. However, in some cases, old ground is repeatedly covered because of the lack of preparation. Written reports can help group members realize their responsibilities and accountabilities to the team. Groups can benefit from sophisticated project management software applications which can keep a record of what is and should be happening at any point in time. More recently, virtual meetings using web-based software and teleconferencing facilities have become the norm when groups are distributed across a wide geographic area.
Argent (2007) lists four categories of activity that should take place after a group meeting to ensure that the activity of the meeting is not wasted and that tasks stay on track.
- Team activities and implementation: People need to know who will do what and be accountable. Group members may become reluctant to do their part if resources aren't allocated fairly and effectively. The group will fail if unrealistic expectations are present regarding resources. The group must work together to solve these problems.
- Project management: Groups must follow acceptable project management techniques to accurately predict where a project is going and to take action if the project is off track. Most projects fail because people fail to incorporate feedback into the project plan and fail to review the reasons why things were off track within the project.
- Performance measures: The only way a group knows how it is doing is if it measures its progress. Performance metrics should also be meaningful to the goal and purpose of the group and not simply easy to accomplish metrics.
- Corrective actions: Groups must react quickly and decisively to any situation requiring corrective action. Before even beginning a project, the group should have agreed upfront on how to handle corrective action situations so there is no question when they occur as to how to make a decision.
Team Member Assessment
Individuals may possess a high...